Michelle Sauvageau

Electrical Engineering, B.S. (2016)

Electrical Engineer - Burns & McDonnell Transmission & Distribution Group

Hometown: Oakdale, MN

Now lives in: Overland Park, KS

Career path: Since graduating NDSU in the spring of 2016, I have spent my entire career at Burns & McDonnell. I work at our world headquarters in Kansas City, MO in our Transmission and Distribution global practice in the Networks, Integration and Automation department. I work on designing and implementing diverse communications systems for Utility clients. 

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?

My parents have always been my biggest cheerleaders. They knew I excelled in math and science, and that I enjoyed problem solving. When I first identified engineering as a possible career path they were very encouraging and thought it would be a great career path for me. 

What’s it like being a woman in a male-dominated field?

While it can sometimes be intimidating to be a minority in classes and in the work place, I have found that being a woman in a male dominated field can be a great advantage. At NDSU, I was often one of only a handful of women (and even had a class where I was the only woman) in a particular class. This made it much easier for professors to learn my name and for me to form quality connections with them. In the work place, my being a woman allows me to bring a different perspective to the problems we are solving on a daily basis. I have also found that the network for women in male dominated fields is exceptional. I was heavily involved in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) while in college and have also attended SWE events during my professional career as well. At Burns & McDonnell, we have a group called the Professional Women’s Exchange (PWE), that meets monthly to discuss a variety of topics that affect women in the work place. I would encourage any female students who are looking at internship and full-time positions to research the professional groups they can join at a particular company. 

What advice would you give to young girls interested in engineering?

Don’t get intimidated or feel like you are not good enough for this field, you can do it! Everyone struggles in classes and finds different things challenging. In college, I noticed that my male counterparts had oftentimes had more exposure to STEM topics growing up than I did. When I started my first circuits 1 class I felt like I was the only one who hadn’t made simple circuits in my basement growing up! It was extremely frustrating, and I definitely questioned if I had what it took to succeed. However, when I started speaking up and asking questions, I noticed that other peers also had the same questions as me. You are never alone, and there is never a stupid question. 

What’s your best memory from NDSU?

Overall, my best experiences came from joining student organizations on campus – Student Government, Society of Women Engineers, Thon Committee, Blue Key Honor Society. But, if I had to choose just one memory, I would say going down to Frisco, TX to watch the Bison win the National Championship game in January of 2016. 

How did your NDSU education prepare you for your career?

My NDSU education provided me with grueling and relevant coursework, positive relationships with staff and faculty, and the opportunity to develop and grow technical and social skills through student organizations. All of these have translated into a successful career so far with Burns & McDonnell.

What first got you interested in engineering?

The first thing that ever got engineering on my radar was The Oprah Winfrey Show. I came home from school one day during my Junior year of high school. My mom was watching Oprah and I went downstairs to join her. They had a biomedical engineer on the show who was displaying some of the different advancements in biomedical engineering at the time – I vividly remember them showing a pig heart that had been cleaned out and then stem cells were inserted into the heart and it could be used as a human heart, wow! I thought that was just about the coolest thing ever. I set my sights on becoming a biomedical engineer – I had always had an interest in math and science and thought I was going to pursue a career in medicine. When it came time to choose a college, I knew NDSU was right for me, but they did not have a biomedical program. I was encouraged to start in the electrical engineering program and I could take biomedical electives. As I got farther into my electrical engineering degree, I decided to focus on the power field and it led me to my career today.

What’s the biggest misconception about your job?

That you can’t work with your best friend! I got to join mine in KC and we have the best times at work.

What advice would you give to female college students just getting started in the NDSU engineering program?

Join SWE, get involved in other clubs and activities around campus, make memories!

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